Jade Helm 15, the controversial Special Operations exercise that spawned a wave of conspiracy theories about a government takeover, will open next week without any media allowed to observe it, a military spokesman said.
Embedded reporters won’t be permitted at any point during the exercise, in which military officials say that secretive Special Operations troops will maneuver through private and publicly owned land in several southern states. Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria, a spokesman for Army Special Operations Command, said his organization is considering allowing a small number of journalists to view selected portions of the exercise later this summer, but nothing is finalized.
“All requests from the media for interviews and coverage of U.S. Army Special Operations Command personnel, organizations and events are assessed for feasibility and granted when and where possible,” Lastoria said in a statement released Wednesday to The Washington Post. “We are dedicated to communicating with the public, while balancing that against the application of operations security and other factors.”
The exercise is scheduled for July 15 through September 15 and is expected to include more than 1,200 troops. Army Special Operations Command announced the exercise in March, saying its size and scope would set it apart from most training exercises. For months, some protesters have said Jade Helm is setting the stage for future martial law. Those fears have been mocked by comedians such as Jon Stewart and others, and the U.S. military has tried to reassure people about the exercise.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, called in April for the Texas State Guard to monitor the exercise, drawing a new wave of attention to Jade Helm and criticism from people who said he was fanning the hysteria. He defended the decision, saying it would improve communication between Special Operations forces and civilians in Texas.
The Washington Post has several times requested access to observe the exercise, making the case to the military that first-hand media coverage would help explain the mission. Lastoria said it is not possible to allow a journalist to travel with Special Operations forces in the field, citing the isolated nature of the mission and the need to protect the identity of the forces involved.
The military has granted access to Special Operations in the past, however. In one recent example, a journalist observed the exercise Robin Sage in North Carolina, writing a profile for Our State, a magazine. The exercise is considered a final test for Green Beret soldiers in training and calls for them to work through a scenario in which they organize a guerrilla force to overthrow the government of the fictional nation of Pineland.
The media also has been granted access to Special Operations forces overseas for occasional media reports and books, including the 2011 book “The Wrong War,” by Bing West, and the 2013 work “One Hundred Victories,” by Linda Robinson.
Lastoria said Jade Helm is no longer as large as it was described on briefing slides published on the Internet in March. This map drew widespread attention at the time:
Lastoria said it will include about 200 Special Operations forces and 300 additional support personnel for most of the exercise. Seven hundred members of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division also will travel to Texas and train as part of Jade Helm for about five days in August, he added.
The exercise will be coordinated and led from Eglin Air Force Base in western Florida, where the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group is based. Parts of it will occur at Camp Bullis and Camp Swift in Texas, Camp Shelby in Mississippi and Camp Beauregard in Louisiana.
By Dan Lamothe